Chapter 1: Guardian
The morning was just beyond the horizon ahead, the sounds of nightlife slowly dying out to be replaced by songbirds and mourning doves. A harpia with glittering streaks in his plumage sat perched atop a cliff high above the valley below, trying his best to keep his sleepiness at bay. There was a long journey ahead, and they were just at the beginning of their travels.
“Exile?” A sleep-drenched voice called his name from behind, catching his attention. He turned his head in its direction, eyes lazily locking onto a smaller harpia approaching him. Her plumage was like his in color; darker topside and lighter underside, with a splash of color thrown into the mix.
“What’re you doing up?” The harpia yawned, rubbing sleep from her eyes with her wing talon. Her voice was scratchy from lack of use overnight.
“Couldn’t sleep.” Exile didn’t mean to sound harsh, he was just anxious for the group to get going. The sooner they left the faster they’d get to their destination. If only Gulo would wake up…
Rustling in the undergrowth to his right forced Exile into defense mode, feathers prickling up on his neck and back. He whipped his head in the direction of the sound, wondering why Asher, his recently-woken traveling companion, wasn’t alarmed as well.
Just as he was about to leap at the quivering bush to drag out whoever–or whatever–was inside, a familiar face poked its way out.
“Gods, Gulo, warn someone before you sneak up on them!” Exile raised his voice slightly, but was relieved it was just Gulo. The culprit harpia shot him an apologetic glance but said nothing due to the prey item she held in her beak.
Gulo was an anomaly to both Exile and Asher, and not just because of her looks. Sure she had a secondary set of wings below her primary pair, which was strange when they first met since it had been the first known case of multiple wings on their kind, but she also seemed a little off in the head to most. Once you got to know her it was clear why she seems this way, but it’s not something she likes to talk about often. Exile was just happy that she considered him a friend instead of an enemy, hell knows what would happen to him at the mercy of her frustration and rage if she didn’t think of him in a positive light.
Gulo dropped the prey between Asher and Exile, her ears perking up and her tail swaying slightly.
“Dig in. We’ve gotta have energy for our travels.” She said, nudging the dead buck with her talons. Exile approached and dipped his head in thanks, turning and tearing a leg from the buck. Asher did the same, but Gulo stayed put, simply watching the two.
“Not hungry?” Asher seemed to notice her inaction. Gulo simply shook her head.
“I had something while I was hunting.” She replied. That seemed to be a good enough reason to Asher, who shrugged and continued her meal.
Once the buck was completely gone, reduced to a few fur scraps and a pair of antlers, Exile shook out his feathers and stretched. Despite all three of them being nocturnal, they’d opted to begin their travels at sunrise to have a marker for judging the time it would take them to get to their location. They’d planned a few stops along the way, but overall they’d reach their destination in a few days time if they kept on track.
“Say Gulo, why were you up so early? Couldn’t sleep, like Exile?” Asher asked, using a talon to pick her teeth. Gulo’s expression of contentedness shifted to one of concern, alarming Exile once again. He felt the feathers on his backside stand up slightly again.
“Not exactly. I heard Exile get up, which is what originally woke me. But once he settled and I tried to go back to sleep, something kept making strange noises somewhere in the woods, so eventually I got up to investigate.” Gulo explained. Exile wasn’t surprised, Gulo’s senses seemed far heightened compared to his and Asher’s, able to hear farther, scent within a bigger radius, and see things others were unable to see. It was almost as if she had some sort of sixth sense.
Suddenly, more rustling sounded, this time incredibly close. Gulo’s ears flattened against her head, snarling in the direction of the noise. Asher, alarmed, jumped at the sound and scurried behind Exile, staying the farthest from the danger. Something akin to mumbling could be heard within the bushes in the direction of all the noise.
“Who’s there?” Gulo hissed. The mumbling stopped, and the trees parted their branches as a huge Royal harpia stepped out, twigs and leaves stuck in his scraggly mane of feathers. Gulo had to actually look up to meet the stranger’s eyes, which were hard to discern due to the numerous false eyes across his body.
“Why hello little birdie. What might you be doing out this early?” The harpia leaned down quickly to get his face right up in Gulo’s, close enough that even Exile could see the bloodshot veins in his eyes. Who the hell was this guy…?
Gulo bumped against the royal to try and push him away, who didn’t budge as she clashed with him. Instead his sturdy frame forced Gulo to take a step back to catch herself from the impact.
“Don’t be afraid, I mean no harm, truly.” The harpia’s voice was silky smooth and cunning. Exile could practically feel the discomfort radiation off of Gulo and Asher as well. Asher shifted behind him, stepping out and into sight.
“Oh, what have we here? A trio, how cute. Where might you three be off too on this fine morning?” Exile felt unnerved by the extreme fluctuation in the harpia’s voice, as well as the fact that he was completely unreadable.
“I don’t think it’s any of your business.” Asher stepped up and said semi-politely, trying to mask her fear. The royal harpia said nothing, simply moved away from Gulo and towards Exile and Asher. As soon as he got too close, Exile lashed out and snapped at the chest of the bigger, darker harpia, who froze in place. He slowly turned his head towards Exile in an almost robotic manner.
“That wasn’t incredibly polite now, was it?” The harpia stamped his foot and huffed slyly. Exile didn’t know what intentions he possibly had, but he didn’t really care either. Just as long as he could get this guy to buzz off and leave them to their own business.
“Who are you?” Exile huffed back defensively. The royal harpia’s eyes narrowed.
“The Watcher, The Onlooker, The One Who Sees All! I am Xibalba, and it’s quite sad that none of you know who the hell I am.” The royal harpia made a bunch of dramatic gestures with his wings as he spoke, finally settling down and glaring at Exile.
“Whatever. Leave us be and we’ll have no trouble.” Exile growled.
Everything that happened next was like a flash in Exile’s vision. Xibalba lunged at him, knocking him off his feet and nearly trampling him underfoot. Xibalba pinned Exile to the ground and began plucking at his chest feathers, pulling out beakfulls of lighter colored feathers from his body. Exile screeched in pain, thrashing about to try and wriggle free from Xibalba’s grasp, but it was no use. He felt the cool morning air breeze over the now exposed flesh on his chest, preparing for the worst.
Suddenly, the weight of the other harpia was thrown off of Exile, allowing him to gasp for air as the pressure was relieved. He rolled over and pushed himself up, catching sight of Asher latched onto Xibalba’s back with her beak, ripping at his oily mane with her talons. Gulo was in front of him, acting as a distraction and trying her best to dodge attacks while also keeping her larger pair of wings outstretched to block the larger harpia from reaching Exile.
Xibalba let out a shriek and tossed Asher off his back, the smallest harpia rolling across the ground and going limp from the impact. Gulo, now focused on Asher, let out a hiss as Xibalba’s head snapped forward and took hold of her shoulder, lifting her from the ground and shaking her wildly in his jaws.
Enraged, Exile let out an earth-shattering cry, enough to distract Xibalba from practically tearing Gulo limb from limb. He dropped the four-winged harpia, stomping on her tail as he made his way over to Exile. He was quickly stopped as a stone was chucked at his head from Asher’s direction, causing the attacker to direct his rage towards her. Asher shrieked as he quickly changed course towards her, but quickly resumed her determined manner as Gulo stuck her leg out in front of Xibalba, bringing him crashing to the ground hard.
Exile, full of rage, placed his foot harshly atop the disoriented harpia’s head, holding him in place as Gulo and Asher recovered and made their way over.
“Get your grimey talons off of me!” Xibalba shouted as Gulo and Asher secured the rest of his body to ensure their safety for the time being.
“Are you insane?!” Asher hissed in response, wincing in pain. Gulo readjusted her positioning, limping as she shifted her weight. The trio were obviously worn down, but there was still fight in their eyes. Xibalba squirmed under their collective holds, but to no avail.
“Look, I’ll back down, alright? I can be a guide for you guys, a fountain of information! Anywhere you need to go, I know how to get there! Just let me up. Please.” Xibalba’s voice turned to one of pleading, surprising Exile and the others. Exile considered it for a moment. What if Xibalba just attacked them again after they let him up, what if he did something unthinkable? How did he even know they’d planned on traveling?!
With a tentative nod to the others, Exile hesitantly lifted his foot off of Xibalba’s head, Gulo and Asher doing the same to their hostage body parts. Exile waited with baited breath as the royal harpia pushed himself up, staggering as he stood. There was an obvious amount of blood scattered across the grass below them, but it was unclear who exactly it was from, they were all bleeding.
“How did you know we were leaving?” Gulo questioned from afar. Xibalba chuckled, a low rumble that sent a shiver up Exile’s spine.
“You three aren’t as sneaky as you might think. I saw three strangers come by, speaking of far away lands and sacred structures. Very disruptive might I add.” Xibalba sneered at Asher. She’d been the loudest of the three by far, always rambunctious and excited. The only reprieve the trio got from her high-pitched voice was when she was sleeping.
“Sorry.” Asher looked down, ashamed. Exile sighed. If it meant getting to their destination as efficiently as possible, they’d bring him along.
“Alright Xibalba, we’ll leave in a few hours. We all need time to unwind and heal for a bit I’d say.” Exile lashed his tail as he uttered that last sentence, which didn’t go unnoticed by the royal harpia, but he said nothing, merely nodded.
The four settled down in a new patch of grass, one that wasn’t slick with bloodsoaked feathers, beginning to tend to each other’s wounds. Gulo flinched a bit when Xibalba planted himself beside her, but relaxed slightly once he began apologizing for his actions.
“It wasn’t very…kind of me, I know it. I’m not the best with others you see, but I couldn’t help but feel the slightest bit interested when travelers arrived with tales of far off destinations, ones I’d heard of many a time. I’d hoped I could track them down and request they bring me with them, for everyone’s benefit of course. I suppose things got a little out of hand.” Xibalba explained. Asher passed him a fish, one of the ones she’d gone and caught out of the nearby pond for them to stock up on. Xibalba nodded in thanks and tucked into the slippery meal.
Exile felt bad for lashing out at Xibalba so soon after meeting him. Not everyone was great with people he now realized, of course he knew it before, but it really clicked with him now. Perhaps this would be good for them, to make this journey with the royal harpia by their side. Even if he still put them all on edge.
Total= 50 AP
Total= 53 AP
Total= 53 AP
Total= 32 AP
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